By Chuck Wilson
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I don't like it. You've got this obnoxious, wrong-headed media hoopla over the new video game systems, the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. The general broadcast media, even NPR, chooses to focus on the wild drama in lines and the exorbitant prices garnered on eBay for the third PlayStation. They're missing the point. Then, there are the bloggers, like Ritalin-juiced teenage celebrity gossips with their first attack of hormones, gabbing with emotion and immediacy regarding every rumor about PS3 and Wii technology (and even TV ads) whether it's true or not in the end. They're closer to the point, but still missing it. Getting the new systems isn't about being an early adopter of new technology. It's like finding the person you want to meet, date, and shack up with . . . for five to seven years.
If the two machines were your dates, they'd have two utterly distinct personalities. The Nintendo Wii is bubbly with a hippie name, easy-going, and not that deep. What you see is what you get. It's sporty too, so much so, it'll make you sweat and give you a workout with its little gyroscopic controller. The PlayStation 3 is like a model, beautiful and distant. It's like your multifarious East Village friend. It's always complex and at times dysfunctional, sometimes promising more than it delivers. It will take you about a year of wooing until it trusts you and until you get what you want out of it. But you will get what you want, you swear.
The Wii, like its predecessor, the GameCube, looks cute right out of the box. Looking at the instructions just once, I was able hook it up and get it working in about 20 minutes. With its AMD 'Hollywood' processor, it doesn't have the high quality graphics of the PS3's newly invented cell processor. In fact, the Wii graphics are just incrementally better than those on the GameCube. Yet the Wii has unexpected extras. Not only does it have a SD card to read your photos, it surprises you when it chops up any photo into a little puzzle game with up to 48 pieces.
The Wii: Cute right out of the box
image: Courtesy of Nintendo
When the Wii Web service went online last weekend, I had no problem linking to it wirelessly. The Wii is simple and intuitive: it wants to help you out and anticipates your problems. Online in the Nintendo store, there wasn't much there the first few days, no promised news or weather channel, no online play, either. What you do get is the first two dozen of what eventually will be a thousand old school games that you can download for five or ten dollars each. Games like the classic Super Mario 64 are there, for instance. There should be more.
The Wii is all about pioneering gameplay. When you play Wii Sports, included in the $249 package, you move the wireless controller as though you're swinging a bat (in the baseball game) or miming throwing a bowling ball. Sure the graphics on this game are Nintendo 64-era. But it doesn't matter. These are fun, little games you can play in about 10 minutes or less. For instance, the baseball game lasts just three innings. And if you happen to blow out your opponent in the run department, the game will end in a show of tender mercy on the Wii's part. This console is your nice date, the one who's kind to the server at the local diner. The one huge caveat here, the possible deal breaker, is the potential for carpal tunnel syndrome, especially in a game like Madden 07 where you're constantly jerking the gyroscopic controller this way and that, throwing passes, blocking, spinning. After an hour of playing the intriguing Madden on the Wii, my wrist hurt like a 300-pound linebacker sat on it.
The PlayStation 3 is the more complicated date, sometimes in a lift-you-off-your-feet elating way, sometimes in a completely confounding and depressing way. It looks drop-dead amazing, sleek, shiny black, a wonder of design and technology. It plays Blu-ray movies. And if you have any doubt about the wonders of Blu-ray DVDs, they even look great on an old-school cathode ray TV like mine. (Of course, movies look even better on widescreen LCD or plasma TVs.) On the surface, the PS3's the belle of the ball with three slots to read you photos and videos. Inside, it runs a 60-gigabyte hard drive. It's Bluetooth, it's wireless, it's 1080p for superior graphics, it lets you stream photos and movie trailers to your PlayStation Portable handheld gaming device. You almost expect it to drive you to the GameStop and help you pick out games.
PlayStation 3: A wonder of design and technology
image: Courtesy of Sony
But when I got deep into the PS3, I found some disconcerting flaws. The first thing I did was to put my SD card full of videos and photos into the SD slot. The PS3 recognized some of the photos, but not all. And it found none of the MPEG-4 videos. The manual asked me to put all the items on my computer, then to reformat the card using the PS3, then place all the stuff back onto the card, then try to play it again. No way was I going to go through that trouble. The thing should have worked without any such hassle.
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